Explanation of Dog Star Man and The Art Of Vision by Brakhage
Excerpts taken from a text file by Pip Chodorov with quotes from Film Is by Dwoskin pp. 150-151
What one sees in Dog Star Man and in the follow up The Art Of Vision is the river, a panorama of moons, suns, trees, man, dog, sex; of cosmos and of micro-organism; a moving accumulation of image into abstraction and abstraction into image, a panorama representing four and one-half hours of intense visual experience.
The Art Of Vision, which is made up of Dog Star Man , has a rather elaborate structure of relationships, and it is these interrelationships that make up the content of the film. The basic action is Brakhage himself portraying a woodsman with an axe, climbing a mountain with a tree, followed by his dog. He plants the tree, then tears it down and chops it up. But the things that are filmed mean far more to Brakhage. He has said, "I saw the whole forest in relation to the history of architecture, particularly religious architecture, at least in the western world. Sensing structure, architecture, history of the world emerging, I began seeing prismatic happenings through snow falling, etc., and in relation to stained glass windows, for one example." Another example of symbolism is the white tree, of which Brakhage said: "There are other kinds of white trees (there can be a silver tree) but if it's a white tree, then in the mind it's a dead tree." During the film, Brakhage journeys up the mountain, this is another gesture of symbolism, perhaps of conquest or exploration. His battle with the dog possible represents man coping with beast. The man is Brakhage himself-- he is his own alter ego. This symbolic complexity, of which Brakhage has a reason for every fragment, is combined with an attempt to illustrate the dream process. Apart from the natural abstraction of hand painting, everything else in the film is "hyperconscious." In essence, "The Art of Vision" is composed of the sum total of Brakhage's own accumulated experience from what he sees and how he lives, to what he has read.
Dog Star Man , in its final form, is the story of a mountain-climbing woodcutter and his journey through the four seasons. Dog Star Man , from which The Art Of Vision originated runs for seventy minutes complete. It consists of a "prelude" and four other parts, the "Prelude" being made first. Brakhage states, "I realized that whatever happened in this prelude would determine what was to come; and in that sense I wanted it to be as real from the very beginning as life happening." All the filmed material in "Prelude" is the same as that for Dog Star Man and The Art Of Vision. What is different is the way these elements are combined, accumulated, overlaid, and juxtaposed in an expanding and abundant visual relationship, leading to visual abstraction.
P. Adams Sitney breaks "Prelude" down into four visual themes: (1) the four elements-- air, earth, fire, and water; (2) the cosmos represented by the stock footage of the sun, moon and stars; (3) Brakhage (man), his wife, flesh, dog, cat, house (everyday life); (4) artificial yet pure filmatic devices (representing the "closed-eye vision"), such as painting and scratching on film, distorted images, double exposure, and clear film. Clear film is visual silence.
The Art Of Vision and Dog Star Man are first and foremost the art of vision-- independent of the background, because it represents what the eye beholds first, not what the mind conceives as possible.
Brakhage explains part IV of Dog Star Man as follows: Part 4 begins with the man lying on the cliff as we found him in the second reel. He rises and shakes off all his sexual dreams as well as all the reasons he had to cut down that tree. Finally, if you think about it, there was no reason for the Dog Star Man to chop that tree, as he does at the end of Part 4. Finally the whole concept of chopping is thrown off. The axe is jettisoned and the face is cut in Cassioppea's chair. The whole film ends and whitens, obviously recalling the cuts, burns and colored leader which evoke the beginning of "Prelude."
This makes me feel that the whole film could be in the form of a cycle
play, where part 4 could lead back into prelude and the cycle of the four
seasons would start again. Part 4 is the winter season, it represents death
and the dying. It is the precursor to spring, which will bring new life, but
for a new life to come an old life must die.
--Roger Raymond Jr.